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School lunches: Be food conscientious

Sadly, summer is almost over. In a matter of a couple weeks, kids will be returning to school, and families will be back in the routine.

There will be sporting events, practices and other extra-curricular activities to worry about. One activity that might not get as much thought is eating. There are school snacks, lunches and afterschool snacks.

With this, there are several different things to think about. There is the quick and easy side of grabbing something to eat. There is affordability — snacks can really add up. There is the healthy aspect of wanting kids to eat the best they possibly can. And there is the thought that maybe didn’t cross your mind — foodborne bacteria.

According to the USDA, bacteria that cause foodborne illness, commonly known as food poisoning, grow rapidly at temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. In this temperature range, these microorganisms can multiply to dangerous levels in just two hours, increasing the risk of foodborne illness.

To make sure lunches and snacks are safe for your kids, the USDA advises these four steps to food safety: clean, separate, cook and chill.

If the lunch/snack contains perishable food items like luncheon meats, eggs, cheese or yogurt, make sure to pack it with at least two cold sources.

This doesn’t mean you have to go out and buy a bunch of ice packs necessarily. Frozen juice boxes or water can also be used as freezer packs also. Freeze these items overnight and use with at least one other freezer pack, the USDA recommends.

And hey, not only do you have a built in ice pack, but by lunchtime, the juice or water should be thawed and ready to drink.

Also, pack lunches containing perishable food in an insulated lunchbox or soft-sided lunch bag rather than a paper bag.

If packing a hot lunch, like soup, chili or stew, use an insulated container to keep it hot. Fill the container with boiling water, let stand for a few minutes, empty, and then put in the piping hot food. With all the school supplies on the shelves at your local retail stores, there are insulated thermoses available, some at a very reasonable price.

After lunch, have kids discard all leftover food, used food packaging and paper bags. Do not reuse packaging because it could contaminate other food and cause foodborne illness.

As for healthy snacks once kids get home after school, there are a million options. Literally. Just Googling “healthy afterschool snacks” comes back with 1.7 million options. Careful they actually are healthy though. Learn to read labels.

There are always the basics like fruits or veggies with a light dip or hummus, fruit smoothies (it’s amazing what healthy things you can sneak in there that they won’t even notice, too), dried fruit and nut trail mix or homemade granola just to list a few.

There are lots of options, and there are lots of ways to keep kids healthy and full this school season.